In referring to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad government in Syria against its people, President Obama has called the attack "an attack on human dignity". He has said, "This kind of attack is a challenge to the world. We cannot accept a world where women and children and innocent civilians are gassed on a terrible scale." He has accused the Assad government of having crossed the "red line" set by the international community regarding the use of these horrible weapons.
"I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98% of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent, and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war," said Mr. Obama.
The treaty Mr. Obama is pointing to is the 1925 Geneva Protocol affirming the outlawing of chemical weapons by the 1899 Hague Convention. Since then only crazy, evil guys like Saddam Hussein have employed chemical agents -- first in his war against Iran in the 1980s and later in his suppression of the Iraqi Kurds in 1987. Right? Well, not really. The Reagan administration wasn't overly critical of Mr. Hussein for his use of mustard and sarin gas against Iran, because back then he was our friend... before he became our enemy.
It is this inconsistency that makes the US moral argument against chemical weapons difficult to make -- not because it isn't immoral, but because the US is inclined to latch on to the argument only when it's in its national interest to do so. In other words, there exists a fundamental hypocrisy.
Further, the Obama administration, members of Congress, and the American people seem to have forgotten that it wasn't that long ago that the US was also guilty of using chemical weapons. From 1962 to 1971, the US governments under President John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon dumped some 20 million gallons of chemicals on Vietnam as part of the so-called "Operation Ranch Hand" chemical warfare program.
In an article for PolicyMic by Wesley Messamore titled "10 Chemical Weapons Attacks Washington Doesn't Want You to Talk About", the author writes: "Vietnam estimates that as a result of the decade-long chemical attack, 400,000 people were killed or maimed, 500,000 babies have been born with birth defects, and 2 million have suffered from cancer or other illnesses. In 2012, the Red Cross estimated that one million people in Vietnam have disabilities or health problems related to Agent Orange."
It is utterly amazing how a country has the gall to claim the moral high ground on chemical weapons when it has used them to such an extent itself. It is part of this myth of American Exceptionalism that continues to be sold... and swallowed hook, line and sinker by individuals with absolutely no regard for history and even less of an interest in the truth.
A little honesty and genuine self-reflection, for God's sake. Now that would be exceptional.